Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Bucket

I haven't been as active on my blog as I first intended to be.  Part of the reason is most likely because I wasn't clear on why I was blogging, what the purpose of the blog should be.  Was it a means of keeping a record of my children, was it to try and build a brand and make money, or was it just an opportunity to share (and sometimes seek) good advice?  Without any clear focus, the ideas I have for topics aren't planned out and at random; I'll latch onto something and begin to write.

Last week, a former student of mine posted to a group she started on Facebook looking for some money saving food tips.  After posting one of mine, it inspired me to draft a blog post about saving money, something I happen to be very good at.  That led me to start another draft about money in general, and budgeting, something else I am very good at.  Both of those posts are soon to come as I am tweaking them a bit - this post is a little more stream of consciousness.

One point I make in my post about money is that being organized is directly related to money.  It saves time, it prevents wasting money on replacing items, and prevents late fees/penalties.

In today's world, it can be very hard to stay organized.  Many of us have schedules that are rough enough.  Add in kid's homework, endless paperwork from various sources (insurance, banks, taxes) it can be overwhelming.

I also have a self diagnosed form of ADD that is visual in nature.  I don't mean to make light of anyone who has ADD, and am completely serious when I claim to have it.  Just as a child with ADD can't not pay attention to a noise or a motion that most of us may not even notice, I can not NOT pay attention to clutter or objects that are on flat surfaces.  As such, my house has a lot of pictures and art work hanging on my walls, but there are very, very few items on any flat surface.  We are in the process of having our kitchen redesigned and I only half joke with the designer that I want my counter tops all installed at a 45 degree angle. If I walk into my kitchen and one of my children has left something on my counter tops, it is as if I have tunnel vision, and that is all I see.

As you can imagine, with 3 kids in the house, this led to a lot of yelling on my part for people to pick their stuff up and put it where it belonged.  As you can imagine, my kids soon learned to tune me out and then I had to up the ante, threatening to throw the items out.  Of course, my kids called my bluff.  They knew that I wasn't going to throw out an itouch that their uncle had given them for Christmas.  I was stuck.

Then, it was as if God spoke to me.  On Facebook.

A friend from high school published a picture of a chore bucket.  Instantly, I had the answer.  I drove right over to the dollar store and purchased a bucket.   Just before dinner that night, I explained to the kids how the bucket would work.  I told them I was tired of yelling AND I was tired of them not understanding how important it was to me that their stuff not be left around the house.  I told them that when I found an item, it would go into the bucket on top of the refrigerator.  In order to get an item back out of the bucket, they would need to complete a chore of my choosing and done to my satisfaction.

That next day, 4 items went into the bucket.  4 chores I hate doing got done (sweeping the basement stairs, dusting the molding in the foyer, dusting the molding along the stairwell and emptying the shredder into the recycling bin).  Items were handed back.  The next day 2 items went into the bin.  2 more chores were done.  Over the next two weeks I would occasionally find an item.  My kids were unsure how serious I was, so they had taken to leaving items they were too lazy to put away in their bedrooms on the side of the stairs in the dining room, rather than the kitchen table or counter tops.  I also found some items squished in along side the television, in an attempt to hide them.  These went into the bucket.  More chores got done.  But, by the time 2 weeks was over, I found nothing!  And, even now, I rarely find anything.  All done without a single yell - from me or from them.  (Okay, I lie.  One time my husband got yelled at because I made the mistake of not filling him in and he made the mistake of believing my youngest to just give him the water gun that was in the bucket.)

I never realized how much time I spent wasted worrying about the objects left around, yelling to have them put away and then often doing it myself so I could clean up.  Who knew peace in the house, and in my mind, could be found at the bottom of a bucket.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

I found myself with some unexpected time on my hands today.  Two out of three kids are sick.  So that meant some time at home for me.  Both kids are taking a little nap right now, probably the best medicine for an ear infection.  Since they have each chosen a sofa to sleep on, I can excuse myself from vacuuming - don't want to wake a sleeping child.  Watching the two of them, I think of this photo:

I miss those days.  A lot.

But I digress.  So before I start crying and wondering where the time has gone, let me return to the topic I intended to address.

Lance Armstrong.

Unless you have been living under a rock, there shouldn't be any reason for me to recap.  It has been all over the news, the internet, Facebook.  But, what hasn't been anywhere, and what I have been wondering, and what I have to imagine has crossed others minds is:  Did he ever really have cancer?  And if he in fact did, is it possible it was never as bad as he claimed it was?

Stage 4.  Unless you are talking about the Tour de France, the very term can evoke fear and terror.

That's what stage we were told Lance Armstrong was in.  His testicular cancer spread to his brain and lungs.  Stage 4 survival rates are very low, although higher for some types of cancers than others.

And yet, within a year, Lance Armstrong was in remission and racing again.  He goes on to win the Tour de France 2 years after returning to the sport.   Amazing and inspiring to so many people, particularly those dealing with their own cancer diagnosis.

Now, as we find out more and more about the case, the years of lies and denials, about doctors who back dated prescriptions and fudged reports, about officials who drop allegations after large donations were made, about bullying team mates, managers and doctors, am I really the only person who wonders?  Could this all have been faked, or the extent of his cancer exaggerated?

Faking cancer isn't rare.  I googled it before starting this post and was amazed at the number of known cases that popped up.  In almost every instance, money was the motivator.  People pretended they had cancer, or their child had cancer for financial gain.

Clearly, Lance Armstrong had a lot of financial gain.  He was a relatively unknown athlete before his cancer diagnosis.  Much of his fame is due to the storyline of "biker beats cancer, wins races."  Sure he would have gained some fame winning the Tour de France, but lets be real, how many other famous bicyclists are there in the US?  Can you name even 1?  Probably not.

After beating cancer, returning to his sport and winning, Lance Armstrong rose to heroic heights.  He starts a foundation, he writes a book, everyone knows his name.  Before long, he is earning $20 million a year in prizes and endorsements.


But what do I know?

I do know that if everything is as it seems, that perhaps some of the research money needs to go towards determining if blood doping is a cure for cancer.  Imagine if after all this hullabaloo it is discovered that a cocktail of EPO, testosterone and blood transfusions is the cure for cancer.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Glorification of Busy

Finding time to blog recently has been a challenge.  When I finally sit down in the evening, for a few minutes of quiet before I head to bed, I have found myself reaching for a book rather than the laptop.  Even now, as I type this on a quiet Sunday morning, while my kids are still sleeping and my husband is in our basement working out, I am feeling guilty.  There is just so much that needs to get done, not to mention what has to be done.

My days are filled as of late.  I get up at 5 am each weekday, shower, take care of the dog going out and feeding her and then finish packing lunches.  I usually either throw our daily load into the washer at this time or, if I was motivated the night before, throw the load I did then into the dryer.  Then it is time to start waking the kids and getting them ready to head out the door, one to a 6:45 bus and the other two are dropped off at a friend's house at 7:20 to catch the bus there as I head off to work.  After work, I head home and let the dog out, give her a good ear rub and then start getting dinner ready.  Conor gets home first, and after he gets himself a drink and snack, we try to get his homework done, or at least the part that he needs help to complete.  It is much easier to do it right away while he is the only kid in the house.  About an hour later, Carson and Hayden arrive home.  While they are getting a snack, they add their lunch box to Conor's next to the sink and while they eat, I clean them out.  Then, its time to help them with their homework.  At some point, one or two (or sometimes all three!) of the kids have to be brought to a practice.

We eat dinner close to 7, but aim for earlier if the kids practice schedule allows it.  Dinner is followed by showers for the kids while I start to clean up the kitchen and do some packing for the next day's lunches and my husband attacks all the dog hair with the vacuum.  Once that is done, we meet up in my bedroom and I distribute everyone's clean clothes to be put away.  Often, it is then time for the kids to head to bed. Our goal is everyone in their bed by 8 or 8:30, and then they are allowed to read until 9.  I still read to my youngest for 10 minutes and then sit with him while he reads to me for an additional 10.  If we don't do this, he doesn't get a star at school on Friday for completing his reading log.

I head back down and finish cleaning the kitchen and hopefully get the daily load of laundry into the washer.  If I didn't get a chance earlier in the day, this is when I get the load waiting for me in the dryer folded and hung up.  This is also the time that I make sure my husband has placed the correct sport supplies for the following day in my van.  Its also the time we make sure that each of us is clear on who is picking up/dropping off each kid at their practice or activity.

I have made a resolution to get ready for bed by 10:00 in the hopes of being in bed by 10:30.  Only one week into the new year and I have already failed at this at least 50% of the time.  I keep trying because that extra half hour of sleep does make a difference.  But, doing this means sacrificing those few minutes I have alone each day to read and/or blog.

Sadly, my tale is not unique.  We live in a society in which being busy is glorified.  We brag about being busy, we post status updates about how busy we are each day.  We wear our busy like badges of honor.  Often, we don't realize how busy we actually are until, by chance, we experience a day that isn't filled to the brim.

I have thought a lot on how to be less busy, and so far, I haven't come up with a solution.  Which kid do I say no to - who do I tell that they can't do an activity?  Because, even though each kid only does one sport per season, with three kids, all different ages, we have at least one practice every single night each week.  Do I tell Conor, who is only months away from his black belt, an achievement he has been working 7 years to accomplish that he can't go to the dojo?  Do I tell Carson who loves soccer that she can no longer play?  Or Hayden, the youngest who has been dragged to everyone else's practices and games for years that he can't have a turn to play the sport he loves?

I compare the life I live now to the life I knew growing up.  My brother and I played sports and my father worked a job with hours similar to my husband's, meaning my mother was completely responsible for my brother and me.  Yet, she found time to get dinner on the table, read the books she loves, and, in the time before email and reasonable phone bills, she also managed to write letters on a daily basis to family and friends who lived away.  Where did she find the time?

Upon examination, I realize that there are societal changes at play.  I too played soccer.  So did my brother.  But, back then, there wasn't the time commitment that exists today.  We played one game on Saturdays and I think we perhaps had one practice during the week.  Kids today often have two practices a week and games on both days of the weekend.  My son and husband are martial artists.  Being at the dojo every night of the week isn't uncommon.  In fact, it has been necessary some weeks, in order for my son to meet the requirements for his black belt.

When I was growing up, sports had very distinct seasons.  Soccer was in the fall, basketball in the winter and baseball/softball in the spring.  Summer was summer - and you did nothing.  These days, while kids may play a recreation version of other sports, they tend to become sport specific at a very young age.  This makes carpooling a challenge.  In my neighborhood, all the kids played the same sport at the same time so there was almost always another family close by that had the same practice time and place.  So the moms took turns dropping off and picking up.  And my mother felt no pressure to stay at practice.  No one questioned her commitment to her kids if she pulled up next to the field and let us spill out of the back seat before returning home to finish preparing dinner.

Personal choice has added to the amount of time I spend bringing each child to their activity.  My husband and I choose a home that is a 20 or 30 minute ride from the center of town, where most activities take place.  My son's dojo is a 30 minute ride each way.  So, any activity they do, I need to spend an hour in my van.

I don't know what the answer is, for me or for society as a whole.  I'm not going to sell my home to move closer to town.  I'm not going to say no to one of my children.  As parents, we have become so use to the concept of multiple practices and games starting at an early age, and year round sports that I highly doubt that would change.  Returning to days of sports being single season activities won't happen.  Its the new normal in America.  My cries of "uncle" will do nothing to change it.

Instead, I am going to keep on keeping on, and hope like heck I don't look back and regret how rushed this portion of our lives seemed.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!

I've been away for a while now.  I had allowed myself to become overwhelmed with some issues at work, a project at home, and prepping for the holidays.  This past week has been a huge blessing, allowing me some time to step away from the work scene and get some perspective all while wrapping up some small tasks that have been haunting me and preventing the bigger project from getting done.

Our Christmas was very nice and enjoyable.  The kids loved all of their gifts, but we did miss having family visiting.  This was the first Christmas in 8 years that my family hasn't been here with us.  I missed them madly.

 We made the best of being by ourselves and had a very enjoyable holiday.  We went to Christmas Eve mass and then came home and tried to get a few pictures in front of our tree.  Stella did not cooperate!

After dinner, the kids get to open their traditional Christmas Eve gifts: pajamas and a book.  Pajamas are easier to find each year.  Like most families, we got  The Children's Place fleece snowman pajamas. 
This is an inexpensive route to go and right now, they are on sale for under $10 each.  If your children are young enough, you could buy them now and set them aside for next Christmas.

Every year, I get my kids a book and try to do something Christmas related.  It had been super easy to find Christmas themed books - and then they grew up and now it is getting harder and harder.  But, I love that they still love their "little kid" Christmas books and we have started the tradition of using them as an advent calendar of sorts.  I wrap all the books we have, and each night leading up to Christmas, we unwrap one of the books and sit on my daughter's bed and read it aloud.  This usually leads to trying to remember who got the book and on which Christmas Eve.  That leads to giggles and smiles as we remember various things that happened that year.

I love the wrapping paper I found this year!  I am kicking myself for not buying more and setting it aside.

Between Christmas and New Year's, we did close to nothing.  And it was great.  I am pretty certain my kids only got out of pajamas to shower and put on a fresh pair.  My husband and I puttered around and got small jobs that have been lurking done.  I started pulling out paperwork we would need for taxes and shredded a plethora of old credit card statements and utility bills that have been cluttering up a drawer in my secretary.  I sharpened all the broken pencils and went through the two junk drawers in a buffet we use as a catch all in the entry way.  I climbed on top of my washing machine and got all the hangers that have fallen off the rod that is above the washer and dryer.  I even went so far as to use the vacuum attachments and suck up the bits of lint that migrated back there.

We had planned to go to a friend's home for New Year's Eve, but after a day of sledding with the kids, they were exhausted and I wasn't feeling well, so we were all in bed by 9pm.  In the spirit of full disclosure, I should state that my husband and I have never seen the new year arrive.  We are always asleep before midnight.  We are not big party people and would much rather be well rested so we can spend our days doing this:

They had so much fun, and I'm happy to report we only had some minor bruising.

 Not quite the same as a photo of my toes in the sand.  But it is still early enough in snow season for it to be enjoyable.  I do highly recommend Sorel boots.  Normally, I would only be recommending LL Bean boots.  But this is one time in which another company does it even better when it comes to cold.  Bean boots are great looking and light weight and perfect for having on most of the time.  But if you are going to be ice fishing, snow shoeing or sitting in a big pile of snow taking pictures of your kids sledding down a hill, nothing comes close to keeping your toes as warm as a pair of Sorels! I've had this particular pair for 2 decades and they are awesome.

Stella is normally the best behaved dog.  But Stella + snow = crazy dog!

Everyone is sleeping now and hopefully well rested as we return to our normal school and work days tomorrow.  I hope you all had the chance to rest up, enjoy your family and are prepared to head back to your normal routine as well.